Ever wondered who you are chatting to online? Who is at the other end of the MSN connection, or who you just received that very complimentary email from?
There’s now a project to put a robot on Facebook – a real physical robot so no chance of it asking you to be a friend or doing bad things like continuously poking you. All part of a an experiment in social interaction and AI
As computers develop into increasingly sophisticated devices and software becomes more able to learn it is likely that one day you will actually be holding a conversation with a machine, rather than a human being, and not even know it.
In 1950 the legendary computer scientist Alan Turing wrote a paper entitled “Computing Machinery and Intelligence” in it (amongst other things) he described a test which could be used to determine if a computer could accurately mimic human behaviour and at least to some extent display artificial intelligence, or even “think” for itself.
The test has been criticised for several reasons, practical, philosophical and on the grounds that it doesn’t actually test AI just the ability to copy human behaviour. However one suggested variation on the Turing test does intrigue me. That is, the possibility that you are speaking to a human but they are actually of the opposite gender or sexual orientation to that which you believe them to be.
It is possible that it has already happened to you. Online identities are often not quite what they seem. Not that I’m saying there aren’t good reasons for that. However some people have very bad reasons for pretending to be someone else online. They might be doing it to amuse themselves, or far, far worse.
How long do you think you could talk to someone online about sex, relationships and maybe even talk dirty, before you realised they were actually the opposite of what you were looking for? Have you been in that situation?
One parting thought. As voice synthesis improves to the point where it can not only emulate normal speech but convey emotion it would surely be the cheapest way to staff chat lines. And there would be no end to the scenarios the machine could explore with the customer.